Published Aug 08, 2019This week, David Berman of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains tragically passed away at the age of 52. While the world mourns his death and remembers his greatness as an artist, a previously unreleased poem has surfaced online.
Darius Van Arman, founder of the Jagjaguwar label, had asked his longtime friend Berman to write a sentence or two on the label for a biography that was written in 2016.
"David said he would be happy to write up a little memory, but then some weeks passed as we would delicately nag for our quotes," Van Arman continued. "Then, one day this arrives, a story/poem gem just for us. It's been passed around this office again and again. And yesterday, we read it again with tears rolling out our eyes."
The lengthy piece can be read below. You can also find it here.
gate pratt had an old house in charlottesville on 9th Street
one of those literally on the other side of the tracks jobs.
no college kids in the vicinity.
A couple cross streets were called Wine St and Dice St.
I always wished they'd crossed, but no city could hold on to
signage like that.
he'd painted it transfat yellow with army green trim and it
leaned badly. the interior was done in malt liquor bottle brown
and robin's egg blue lead paint. the only new section was built
by gate, a back room addition to the rickety two story house.
gate was one year ahead of me in college and one of my closest
now it was seven years later and i was living outside of town
renting steve keenes house.
gate was training to be an architect and practicing on this
house and it was the first time someone i knew built a room.
i'd come in to town and we'd go do something and i would pass
out there to save driving.
at this point gate decided to rent the backroom.
gate had never given up his saturday afternoon radio show
and he knew darius from the station. His mother came down
and put up curtains.
this is all around 1996-97
I was probably 29. Gate was 30.
Darius was a very gentle person who nevertheless
took the lead in getting things done among his peers.
I don't think Darius classifies as a millenial but he embodied
several positive qualitative traits i associate with millenials.
more kind, more competent, more curious, more worldly,
not as quick to judge, better able to work in groups than people my age.
At some point i asked Darius by what route he had come to educate
himself about music. I think he told me he was a pink floyd fan who
fell for the smiths.
Today everyone contributes to the internet. At that time the idea
of anyone in charlottesville creating and distributing local work
for outside public consumption was a "cute" thing to try to do but
charlottesville's discographical heritage was one of the shortest
and weakest in collegetown history.
the happy flowers and the dave matthews band.
but nothing in between.
there's a lot of space between those two you know?
He slept late, but then he took charge.
He got good work out of others. I dont remember him as a nag
but I dont see how else he could have got me write something for him back then.
and he couldnt have filled all those 2-6 am dj slots no one wanted in the summer
without being a nag
but he got stuck doing that late shift a lot and he became a daysleeper.
when id come over he'd be getting up bleary-eyed and rubbing his face.
he got most of his work done elsewhere. when he was back in his room
he couldnt help falling asleep.
He'd put shows at tokyo rose
and sometimes he'd bring a band home to flop on the floor.
bedhead came in one night. one sat down and opened his laptop
id never seen one before. i was surprised to find someone i knew from
high school had joined the band that was touring with them.
i pulled him aside "what the fuck is going on?
is he communicating with people through his computer?"
two foot flame was a funny group of people. i was listening
to a uva/florida state football game on the radio at the house. the game
was going two miles away, right over the trees from tokyo rose
and i always liked that effect of the radio delay and the crowdnoise
coming through the window. darius brought them to the house before
their show and gate cooked his weird "health food" for the band
they were three very fun people, jen michael and peter.
i was impressed that michael morley from the dead c was there.
in the house that was the objective correlative of a dead c song.
of course he didnt know much about football
but he picked it up and was able to know what was going on
over the radio.
the chance of uva beating florida state in 1995 was about as low as the likelihood that
a local record could ever matter to anyone in the outer world.
florida state had been #1 all season. UVA was unranked.
florida state had joined the acc four years before and was
29-0 against Acc opponents.
but uva wasnt getting blown away.
somehow uva's defense was pushing florida state off the line.
they took the lead into halftime.
these were fourth year classmates of darius
michael was as excited as i was by this point…we were pounding
beer and whiskey
i dont think darius cared about sports. maybe im wrong. at any rate
he cared about getting the band to the show. but the game was too exciting.
[tiki barber ending up rushing 200 yards +45 passing for uva. florida state threw for 500 yards,
both qbs threw 3 interceptions] with 7 minutes left it was 33-21 uva.
and then we threw an interception.
and then florida state started to pour it on. score 33-28
and life in charlottesville seemed due to return to normal.
on the next possession uva went four and out. florida state got
the ball back with 3 minutes left.
darius insisted we leave or we'd hit stadium traffic.
i had to explain to the band that the end was a foregone conclusion
and i didnt think id be going to see their show anymore
but i was not excused and me gate darius and the three players
crowded into gate's 75 dodge dart for the two mile drive to tokyo rose.
fsu began its march.
despair in the air. and two foot flame wasnt a party band.
i stick my head out the window to lower the volume to where i can just
barely hear the play by play.
uva intercepts! i hauled myself back into a totally different car.
noise band acapella as we pull into the parking lot
and burst out of the car and through myself on the asphalt.
. the crowd noise is huge coming over the trees.
45000 famously tepid uva fans are losing their minds on prime time
but of course it wasnt over.
fsu uses their three time outs and gets the ball back. we're all standing around
the car. the radio's up all the way. they come down the field. i back away from the car.
darius goes inside. i can just hear the radio. it wont hurt as bad when it happens.
it'll be like bad news whispered in my ear.
florida state makes it all the way down to uva's three yard line. i could just keep walking
west on Rt. 250 and hitch my way to the blue ridge parkway to freeze to death on a mountain top tonight.
here's how it ended. go to 11:00 and you experience the tension yourself:
i hit the glass doors of tokyo rose like they were blocking sleds
and….while the place was full,
it was as quiet as japanese restaurants are quiet.
no one else was screaming. no one cared.
these people came here to get away from sports.
a post script on darius: after darius moved out gate discovered
the gas heat to darius room had been hooked up wrong. no wonder
he couldn't stay awake in there.
"Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include lightheadedness, confusion, headache, vertigo, and flu-like effects;
larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and death.
Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression, confusion, and memory loss.
Carbon monoxide poisoning has also been implicated as the cause of apparent haunted houses; symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations have led people suffering poisoning to think they have seen ghosts or to believe their house is haunted."
how could jagjaguwar have evolved in such oxygen depleted environment?
"Carbon monoxide is not toxic to all forms of life. Its harmful effects are due to binding with hemoglobin
so its danger to organisms that do not use this compound is doubtful. It thus has no effect on photosynthesising plants."
i am not qualified to say, but i theorize that jagjaguwar is a plant and not an animal.
From there we can rule out grasses, flowers, and weeds since they have such short lifespans.
Tonight I believe Jagjaguwar is a tree.